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Southern Miss security expert: Terrorists are after soft targets

Bomb blasts that ripped through crowds of spectators, killing three and injuring more than 100, at yesterday’s running of the Boston Marathon have captured the attention of the country’s leading security experts.

President Barack Obama called the bombing, “an act of terror” in a statement today.

Dr. Lou Marciani at the Center for Spectator Sports Security Management at the University of Southern Mississippi (NCS4) says the ramifications of the attack are still sinking in.

>> Jackson racing organizer says security is lax at smaller racing events

The Hattiesburg professor compared the attacks to 9/11 and the 1996 bombing at Centennial Olympic Park in Atlanta that killed one and injured more than 100.

“Personally, I always thought after working so many years it would happen at a stadium,” Marciani told the MBJ this morning. “We worked so hard since 9/11 in preparing for major events, I should have realized that terrorists are gonna move to softer environments. I’m not surprised anymore.”

» READ MORE: Donna Bruce describes Boston as ‘somber’ day after marathon bombing 

Soft targets are any public event or place that is heavily populated, hard to defend and can guarantee publicity if attacked- places like hospitals, schools or hotels- writes national security expert James S. Robbins with the American Foreign Policy Council.

Yesterday’s attack happened just yards away from the finish line at a historic and grueling marathon that more than 23,000 people had registered to run this year.

“Twenty-six miles is pretty vulnerable,” Marciani said of the race route, “Basically there’s no access control, no way of determining the risk factors, no gates. There’s nothing.”

“(Atlanta was) the first time we ever had an IED attack on our citizens,” he said. “We began to look at backpacks, manholes, trash cans. Making sure we can at least reduce that risk.”

» READ MORE: Madison’s Martha Davis sees Boston Marathon celebration turn to sadness



Backpacks are very common at marathons with both runners and spectators and Marciani wonders how you could detect a safe one from one packed with explosives.

Once the investigation is completed NCS4 will work with the Department of Homeland Security and security experts from places like the MLB and NFL to assess best practices for future public events. As more information comes out about the nature and origin of the bombing, new safety curriculum and training will be developed.

The biggest take away right now is the courageous response of law enforcement, counter-terrorist units in Boston and race organizers, Marciani said.

“You saw the result of a lot of work since 9/11. A few months from now we can be in a better position to enhance the preparedness,” he said. “I think we’re a very resilient country. I wouldn’t worry if I was going to be in a next marathon.”

» List of Mississippians in Monday’s Boston Marathon

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